France has been a secular republic since 1905, when a law on the separation of the church and the state was passed. In a survey on religion conducted by the newspaper Le Monde, over 30% of French people described themselves as not religious. And yet their churches are sacred to them…
When the Notre-Dame caught on fire in April 2019, so many people tried to make donations towards the renovation work on that fateful day that the website crashed. Now, it goes without saying that you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the architecture of a holy building and admire the works of art collected inside.
Here are our top 5 churches in Paris – we promise you won’t want to miss out on these!
favorite church 1 NOTRE-DAME
This 12th century gothic church building with its signature rose windows is – thankfully – still one of the most important landmarks in Paris. Although the wooden spire was destroyed in the fire in April 2019 and the roof structure was seriously damaged, most of the building was saved from the flames. The works of art were salvaged too, despite all the soot and water used to extinguish the fire.
President Macron has promised that the repair and reconstruction work will be complete in 2024. We can’t wait, and we’ll keep you up to date on the progress.
This church with beautiful gothic stained-glass windows is one of our absolute favourites because the atmosphere in the upper chapel is nothing short of magical.
The small building is hidden away, sandwiched between buildings belonging to the Palais de Justice on the left bank of the River Seine. It was commissioned by King Louis IX during the 13th century. He had acquired relics of the Passion of Christ from the Emperors of Constantinople and they obviously needed to be stored and displayed somewhere befitting their status. And yet the church wasn’t open to the general public to start with.
Luckily, we’re free to step inside now and admire the stained glass windows in all their glory. Standing 15 metres tall, they tell the story of mankind, from creation to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Try to visit them when the sun is shining if you can. That’s when the light is at its most spectacular!
Time for another iconic Paris attraction – the basilica on top of the Butte Montmartre. The building work began in 1875 and wasn’t complete until 1914. Do you get a slight Turkish vibe from the Sacré-Cœur? That’ll be down to the fact that architect Paul Abadies took inspiration from many sources including the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
When you stop to catch your breath after making your way up the 237 steps to the top of the hill, you’ll have your first opportunity to admire the stunning view of Paris. If you’re not feeling very energetic, hop onto the funicular instead. After all, there’s no lift up to the basilica dome, so you have no choice but to climb those 300 steps if you want to enjoy an even better view. Trust us – it’ll be worth the effort. If the weather’s on your side, you’ll be able to see up to 40 km across the city and suburbs.
Make sure you take time to check out the mosaic inside the church too. At 475 m², it’s one of the biggest in the world. You won’t be able to miss Jesus Christ in a victory pose with French national heroine Joan of Arc sitting at his feet.
When you’ve finished exploring Sacré-Cœur, head out for a wander around the rest of the beautiful Montmartre district with its charming little streets and all the portrait painters on Place du Tertre.
favorite church 4 Les Invalides & TOMB OF NAPOLEON
Napoleon was laid to rest in a mahogany coffin in an open crypt under a golden dome. It had been his wish to be buried on the banks of the River Seine, so the chapel, which had already been repurposed for military purposes before, underwent major reconstruction work. The statues around his coffin are reminders of his famous military campaigns. Relief panels depict his political achievements in France, including the Civil Code.
The Tomb of Napoleon is part of the Hôtel des Invalides complex, which is also home to the massive military museum and two smaller museums. Make sure you allow plenty of time for your visit because there is so much to see and learn here!
As the second-largest church in Paris, Saint-Sulpice has temporarily taken on the role of the official cathedral of the French capital following the fire at Notre-Dame in 2019.
Construction work may have begun in 1646, but the church didn’t open its doors until 1870 because the money ran out along the way. The building looks a bit mismatched with classicist, gothic and baroque influences, with each of the architects who worked on it having introduced their own style.
Music lovers will be impressed by the world-famous Cavaillé Coll organ, which was installed in 1857 and remains more or less in its original condition to this day. Meanwhile, art aficionados will be drawn straight to the two frescos by Eugène Delacroix in the Chapel of the Holy Angels. And film buffs don’t need to worry about being left out! One scene in The Da Vinci Code was filmed right here in this church.